Saudis Blame Israel

Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Saudis Blame Israel

{\s4 heading 4; ( - Amid a campaign for Arabs' hearts and minds over the fighting in Lebanon and Israel, the government of Saudi Arabia has made it clear that it holds Israel responsible for the conflict.

Earlier Saudi criticism of Hizballah's "adventurism" -- a position viewed by U.S. officials as highly significant -- appears to have given way to the customary Arab stance of blaming Israel and accusing the international community of abandoning the Arabs.

At a weekly meeting chaired by King Abdullah in Jeddah, the kingdom's cabinet declared that the war was an extension of Israel's "occupation policies and hegemony in the region."

"The cabinet affirmed that the international reactions to the all-out war launched by Israel demonstrate the extent of the world community's laxity and disregard for crimes committed by Israel," it said in a statement released afterwards.

The Saudi government censured unnamed countries for giving "absolute support" to Israel, saying this was obstructing efforts by the U.N. Security Council to act.

The statement made no direct reference to the incident that triggered the conflict - the abduction of two Israeli soldiers - or to the hundreds of missiles Hizballah has fired into Israel since then.

In an indirect reference to Hizballah, the cabinet said the international community's shortsighted policies in supporting Israel had resulted in "some elements and movements" taking "their own decisions."

Israel had "exploited [those decisions] in the most horrendous manner to launch a terrible war against Lebanon and imprison the entire Palestinian people."

The apparent shift in the Saudi stance followed criticism of the position taken earlier by the kingdom.

Late last week a Saudi official said Hizballah's "irresponsible adventurism" risked endangering Arab states, while Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned in a joint statement against "dragging the region into 'adventures' that don't serve the Arab issues and interests."

U.S. officials welcomed the position taken by the three U.S. allies against Hizballah and its sponsors in Syria and Iran.

In Saudi Arabia, opposition papers wrote contemptuous editorials about the Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian governments' criticism, while Kuwait's al-Rai al-Aaam published a column praising Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah and saying the "cowards" who did not approve of Hizballah should "stay silent."

"Isn't it a disgrace that some [Arabs] speak as though they are on the side hostile to the Lebanese people, to its resistance, and to its national symbols?" the Syrian government daily Al-Baath said in an editorial.

"The Lebanese and Palestinian national and Islamic resistance are not being 'adventurous.' They are defending the land, people, and honor of Lebanon and Palestine."

In Kuwait, lawmakers held a debate marked by fiery rhetoric

"We support the armed resistance against the Zionist enemy," said one Islamist member, Khaled al-Adwa. "Arabs must take up arms against the Zionist enemy."

Senior lawmaker and former speaker Ahmed al-Saadoun expressed disappointment that some Arab governments described Hizballah as reckless.

"If people consider Hizballah uncontrolled then we want to establish many more of such reckless groups," he said, urging Muslims and Arabs the world over to support Hizballah.

The U.S. also came under fire for supporting "our enemy, Israel."

"Can we not burn the flag of the U.S. just because that country liberated Kuwait?" asked Jaman al-Harbish.

\s4 'Arab dignity'

Many Arabs view Nasrallah as a hero for standing up to Israel, and portraits of the black-turbaned leader of "the resistance" feature prominently in protests across the Middle East.

Reports from Bahrain said Sunnis and Shi'ites marched together in support of Hizballah. In protests there, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere, Arabs chanted slogans urging Nasrallah to bomb Tel Aviv.

"The Lebanese who kidnapped the Zionist soldiers are true nationalists led by a great man," Mohamed Mahdi Akef, the leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, said in an interview with al-Jazeera.

"These [Arab] regimes continue to serve foreign interests completely ignoring and repressing the demands and hopes of their people."

In a bid to widen support among Arabs, Hizballah has sought in public statements to present itself as the only credible force tackling Israel.

In a weekend address broadcast by Hizballah's al-Manar television, Nasrallah responded scathingly to the charges of "adventurism."

Directing his remarks to Arab governments, he said: "I will not ask you about your history. We in Hizballah are adventurers, yes. But we have been adventurers since 1982. And we have brought to our country only victory, freedom, liberation, dignity, honor, and pride. This is our history. This is our experience. This is our adventure."

"Go bet on your reason and we will bet on our adventure, with Allah as our supporter and benefactor," he continued. "We have never for one day counted on you."

Arab media continue to reflect divisions over Hizballah's actions.

Egypt's El-Osboa carried a commentary calling Hizballah "the voice of Arab dignity," while the London-based Al Quds al-Arabi noted with satisfaction Nasrallah's assertion that he was presenting the Arabs with a historic opportunity to defeat Israel.

Hizballah's "steadfastness" over recent days and "the overwhelming support of the Arab and Muslim peoples will strengthen this hope," it said.

"Zionist aggression on innocent civilians is a depressing disaster but, thanks to the heroic resistance, the Arab eyes are sparkling with hope for a renewal of dignity and optimism," said a commentary in Ad Dustour, a Jordanian daily.

By contrast, the editor of Kuwait's Arab Times, Ahmed al-Jarallal, wrote a column critical of Hizballah, Hamas and their backers in Syria and Iran.

"Unfortunately we must admit that in such a war the only way to get rid of 'these irregular phenomena' is what Israel is doing. The operations of Israel in Gaza and Lebanon are in the interest of people of Arab countries and the international community."

Where the Lebanese government and people stand also continues to be the subject of debate.

"Politically and nationally, it is difficult to say that turning Lebanon into a scorched land for the benefit of an Iranian-Syrian project is a praiseworthy effort that enjoys popular approval," Lebanese writer Hazem Saghieh said in a column in the London-based Dar al-Hayat.

But Joseph Samaha, editor of Lebanon's Al-Akhbar newspaper, told Egypt's Al-Ahram "the majority [of Lebanese] are behind Hizballah" and that Hizballah's actions had generated pride among Lebanese.

The Egyptian newspaper also noted that on the eve of an Arab League foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo at the weekend, Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Saloukh had stated: "The Arab world cannot deny the heroics of Hizballah and we expect our Arab brethren to take our side."

Hizballah holds 14 seats in Lebanon's 128-member parliament.

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